Current Issue

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January/February 2022

Twists and Turns

I’m not a big fan of surprise endings, and yet I like to be surprised by a story. This isn’t so much of a paradox if you compare a story's plot to an unfamiliar back road. The sights and sounds are novel, the twists and turns break up the sense of inevitability, anything can lurk just around each turn. And then, where you might expect another S-curve in the road, you find yourself at a switchback.

In this issue, two brothers on the road pass the time by challenging each other with movie trivia, until they stop for gas in John M. Floyd’s “Mayhem at the Mini-Mart.” Wiki Coffin, Joan Druett’s 19th century sailor, is stranded in the Spice Islands by an earthquake and tidal wave that trigger a series of seemingly unrelated tragedies in “Stagger, Stagger.” P.I. Kasper tracks a wayward wife in “Sugar and Spice,” by Elliot F. Sweeney. Ecuadoran Police Captain Guillén may be a bull in a china shop, but he’s the preferred detective for a sensitive case in “Pobre Maria” by Tom Larsen.

In Parker Littlewood’s latest, fast-talking Wiley and his horse Buck have an unpleasant encounter on the range in “Buck and Wiley Tangle with Rustlers.” New to our pages, J. R. Parsons offers a tale of murder on the rodeo circuit in “Bama Carter Gets Rode.” An abusive boyfriend and two clever parrots make for an explosive mix in Roger Johns’s “Birdbrains.”

Cassandra Chan returns to these pages after a long hiatus with a historical whodunit set on tony Long Island in “A Murder in Oyster Bay.” And two seasonal stories bookmark our issue: “HazMat Holiday” by Catherine Dilts and “Do Not Open Till Christmas” by Steve Hockensmith.

A popular YA author returns to his family vacation home, and confronts his past, in Charles John Harper’s “Backstory.” A reckoning arrives in the night via a favorite car in Michael Nethercott’s “All Our Crimes.” A glimpse of the future in the midst of a pandemic doesn’t ease the uncertainty in Dave Zeltserman’s “Uncle Woody’s Thingmajig.” 

The end of the year reminds us that our own future is also an unknown path. A path we hope is shared with family and friends—old and new—that leads to good health and new and interesting possibilities. Here’s to a Happy New Year to all our readers and writers. It’s been a joy to share this path with you.

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Fiction

Buck and Wiley Tangle with Rustlers

by Parker Littlewood

Wiley and I were working our way through rough country, little canyons and scree slopes, following a hint of a game trail. The Lazy Double D roundup was underway, and we were off on our own, miles from home. We’d rousted out a few steers in the morning and chased them to the gathering, but none for hours. The afternoon wore on. I was ready to head home for a roll in the dust and a quiet night grazing with the remuda. Wiley was mumbling to himself as usual and, as usual, I paid no mind, being focused on where to put my feet. He was saying, “We aren’t finding half the beefs we should. Sure as moldy acorns, it’s rustlers, like everyone thinks. A rotten bunch of thieves, taking advantage. Always some kind of chiseler no matter where you go. I thought that sheriff knew his job, but he hasn’t—”

I smelled smoke first, then cattle and men as we rounded a bluff. I took two steps and stopped dead, for a man stood on a boulder right in front of us. He pointed a rifle our direction, and I could feel Wiley startle and go rigid. I, having some experience with this type of situation, gathered myself to wheel about and run for our lives. But Wiley relaxed, leaned forward, and let the reins go slack. “Well, that was easy,” he said, in a voice loud enough to carry to two other men deeper in the canyon. They were standing over a cow lying flat on its side next to a little fire. One of them had a branding iron in his hand. Wiley said in the same loud voice, “We’re going to have to make some changes here.” READ MORE

 
 

Locked-In

by William Burton McCormick

August 1943

The whoosh of a swinging door, the click of a latch, and instantly I know I’ve locked myself in the cellar.

Idiot.

I try the handle. The door rests firmly in basement brick, its iron face like a battleship hatch, gray and riveted with flecks of red paint clinging to the edges and beneath the bolts. It does not budge at my tugs, not a quarter of an inch, even as the wrenching turns violent and my words profane.

Trapped.

I caress my brow with dirty, housework fingers. How could I do this? So much to do today and I strand myself in here? So typical. Moron. Mr. Watkins warned me about it on taking the house.

That cellar door swings, Jeffrey. Bad hinges. Bad construction. Damn treacherous thing. Always prop it open. June locked herself in twice our first year.

I’m well on pace to eclipse his ex-wife’s record, not three days into my rental. Watkins will find that amusing when he comes to collect the rent in ... Jesus, twenty-eight days?

I release a long pensive sigh. Better get him on the telephone when I’m out, insist he remove the locks altogether. Solve the problem once and for all.

But as for today? READ MORE

Departments

Booked & Printed

by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo

In the taxonomy of the bereaved, the parents of murdered children occupy a particularly agonizing, lifelong level of grief. The protagonist of Alison Gaylin’s latest novel, The Collective, finds herself drowning in the horror of her only child’s violent death. Five years after her daughter died at the hands of a wealthy frat boy whose parents bought him the benefit of the doubt, time has healed none of Camille’s wounds.

The book opens on Camille drunk at a moneyed event in which her daughter’s perpetrator, Harrison, is in attendance. When Camille lunges for him, a smartphone video of her sloppy attempt at vengeance goes viral, adding humiliation to her suffering. There seems no recourse from her nightmare of mourning, and the remedies of those who have not experienced such a grievous loss—prayers, forgiveness, meditation—are paltry and insulting to her. Even Camille’s therapist eventually rejects Camille, before dying herself, tragically, from an accidental fall. READ MORE

 
 

Mysterious Photograph

We give a prize of $25 to the person who invents the best mystery story (in 250 words or less, and be sure to include a crime) based on the photograph provided in each issue. The story will be printed in a future issue. READ THE MOST RECENT WINNING STORY.

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Case Files: Addicted to Prison: Institutionalized

by Lee Lofland 

“These walls are funny. First you hate ’em. Then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.”

Inmate Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, The Shawshank Redemption

Life in prison is more than bars, concrete, coils of concertina wire, and punishment and rehabilitation. It’s also about mind-numbing monotony. It’s becoming accustomed to possessing only a handful of belongings that are actually yours and yours alone—a few photographs and letters, a magazine and book or two, a meager assortment of snacks and coffee and tea (when there’s money in the prisoner’s account to purchase them), and one absolute prize, if they’re lucky, a for real bar of soap, not the institutional-smelling off brand issued by the lockup. READ MORE

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Dying Words

Acrostic puzzle by Arlene Fisher

Solve the clues to reveal an interesting observation about an author and their work! Shh! The solution to the puzzle will appear in the next issue. CURRENT ISSUE'S PUZZLE

 
 

Scrambled Queen I

by Mark Lagasse

Unscramble the letters of each numbered entry to spell the name of a famous sleuth. MOST RECENT PUZZLE